McAlester News-Capital, McAlester, OK

State House

December 9, 2013

Medford family loses house to Friday fire

MEDFORD — Piles of charred debris still smoldered Monday on the western edge of this small town.

Robert Wilson, the patriarch and grandfather, stood over what’s left of his home of 16 years. The home where his children grew up.

His grandkids won’t be so lucky.

Wilson was the only one awake Friday morning when he noticed something odd in the kitchen. It turned out to be an inferno in infancy.

He woke up his wife and their twin granddaughters, who turn a year old on Christmas Day. They all got out unscathed.

In all, Friday’s fire stole from 10 members of the Wilson family. His son Bobby and daughter Terri both lived in the house with Terri’s twins. Wilson’s elder daughter, Sheree Taylor, had only recently moved with her husband and two children into another home nearby. They left clothes, all the toys, personal mementos.

“I still had some clothes and a couple of dressers, and some little knick-knacks that my husband has had since he was little,” Taylor said.

What hurts most is the loss of everyone’s baby photos. Bobby, his sister said, also lost a prized first-place demolition derby trophy in the fire.

“There was a few things of my dad’s in there, but I can replace all that stuff I think,” Wilson said.

Since the fire, everyone has moved into Taylor’s house. No matter what home they find next, their house can’t be replaced. Wilson, who is a seasonal worker with the city of Medford, said he didn’t have insurance. There aren’t too many places available in town for less than $50,000, he said. He might try to find a mobile home to stand up on the concrete blocks that are left.

“I wasn’t too mad. Just upset more than that. I’ve been talking about moving for the last year and I didn’t do it,” he said, gazing toward the cold ground. “I should have.”

Medford Fire Chief Dennis Brittain said that the fire was likely cause by an electrical malfunction. It was also a quick burner.

“The fire spread so fast that by the time the first truck got on the scene, it had already broken through the roof,” Brittain said. “The entire central part of the house was on fire.”

The all-volunteer force had trouble dousing the flames.

“We’ve got so many firemen that work out of town now that we didn’t have as much staff as we really needed,” he said.

The volunteers fought it for a while and realized there wasn’t a chance to save everything. Brittain talked with Wilson, and they decided to take a defensive posture, protecting a nearby shed and neighboring homes. It was clear that nothing would remain.

“They lost absolutely everything they own,” Brittain said. “They didn’t get out of there with anything but the shirts on their backs.”

The American Red Cross of Central and Western Oklahoma stepped in to provide a motel room and some cash assistance. They also helped get Robert’s wife, Theresa, a new set of glasses and medicine stemming from a recent surgery.

Monetary donations are going to the Bank of Grant County in Medford, while material gifts can go to Cindy’s Department Store or the Medford municipal office.

So far, the response is promising.

“My front room is full of clothes that people from the community have dropped off,” Taylor said.

Things will be tough going for the family. Taylor said they’ll be fine, physically.

“Mentally and emotionally, more than likely not,” she said. “All of our childhood memories are there. Nobody can ever be mentally OK after something like this.”

Wilson is trying to stay positive. He even remembers joking with the firefighters that morning, offering them “smoked” turkey from his fridge. He said it’ll be all right in the long run, and he’ll start cleaning the debris once it warms up and the ice melts.

“Whatever I’ve got to do, I’ll do it,” he said.

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